On Monday, a consulting firm told Johnston County Commissioners a new Public Safety Center, including a new county jail, will cost between $32 and $47 million.
Representatives with Moseley Architects presented the Facility Needs Study during the December monthly board meeting. The meeting was attended by Chief District Court Judge Jackie Lee, Resident Superior Court Judge Tom Lock, Clerk of Court Michelle Ball, District Attorney Susan Doyle, and Sheriff Steve Bizzell.
Todd Davis with Moseley Architects said the inmate population in Johnston County has increased from an average of 185 per day in 2012, 191 in 2013, to 203 in 2014.
On Monday morning, Sheriff Bizzell said 250 inmates were housed in the county jail, and 13 female prisoners were in the Sampson County, being housed there at a cost of $50 per inmate per day. The current jail is designed to only handle 191 inmates. The intake, kitchen and laundry areas were only designed for 100 inmates.
A recently enacted state law will only add to overcrowding in Johnston and other county jails around the state, Davis said. Previously, anyone who received active time after being convicted of a misdemeanor was sent to the NC Department of Corrections. Now, that inmate must serve out his time in the county jail. Only convicted felons are now admitted to state prisons.
North Carolina, South Carolina and New York are the only remaining states that allows anyone under age 18 to be housed in the regular inmate populate. Should NC lawmakers decide those ages 16 to 18 should be housed seperately, the burden would fall on county jails.
Options Range From $32 Million – $47 Million
A new jail, designed to house 400 inmates, with future expansion to 600 inmates, is projected to cost $32 million, according to the study. The price does not include the cost of land.
If the new Public Safety Center would also house the sheriff’s office, 911 Center, and Emergency Operations Center, it would add another 43,000 square feet to the facility and $11 million to the cost. The third option to include a 15,000 square foot section for Johnston County EMS headquarters, would add just under $4 million to the total price.
The report said a new location with at least 10 acres of land would be needed. There is no space to expand adjacent to the existing courthouse in Downtown Smithfield.
The report indicated that by moving sheriff’s office, jail and emergency service employees to a new Public Safety Center, it would help with parking problems around the courthouse.
Need For More Courtrooms
Once the Public Safety Center is built and operational, existing space in the courthouse would be converted to other uses, including more courtrooms and expanding the Clerk of Courts Office.
District Attorney Susan Doyle said the need for more courtroom space is immediate. Doyle said two criminal court cases on Tuesday had more than 700 people on the docket, and two criminal court sessions on Wednesday had over 600 cases. She told commissioners there was no courtroom presently available that could safely accomidate the large number of people.
Clerk of Court Michelle Ball added there are 1,600 cases on one court calendar set for Friday. She said the courts move a large number of people through the building on a daily basis.
Chief District Court Judge Jackie Lee called the overcrowded courtrooms “dangerous” for courtroom workers and litigants.
Commissioners agreed to discuss the need for a new Public Safety Center and a temporarily plan to help with the crowded courtrooms with the consulting firm in February.